Sunday, March 05, 2006

Klein Gumpen, Here We Come!

On the 23rd of June, 1998, we loaded our packs, mounted our bikes, and struck out through Heidelberg, and then east along the Neckar River. In our typical fashion, it was already afternoon when we finally got going, and we left Bruce and Leaha to care for and eventually bring back stateside 24 generic German garden gnomes.

Alice just had to have the cute things; I couldn’t see any use for them, thought they were butt ugly, and tried to discourage their purchase. The more against it I was, the more for it Alice was. Alice was determined; they would make perfect gifts for many friends and relatives. She already had made a list of who would get which. Bruce eventually brought them in his household goods to Las Vegas, stored them in his closet a year or two, and we finally picked them up and sent them via UPS to our Gualala, California home. Most of them are still packed away in our barn.

When Alice reads this, the now eight-year old plan will be revived. So, dear friends and relatives, please prepare a place in your lawn or garden for a gruesome gift generic German garden gnome to be received sometime this year. Hopefully you have a place where you won’t have to look at it often. They are homely; only Alice and Germans think they're cute.

Our first day took us to Neckarsteinach, and we stayed two nights at the Vierburgeneck Hotel. When we made our plans to bike in Germany, we had decided that if we followed the rivers, we would avoid the hills. The plan worked to a point. When we were traveling from place to place along the rivers, we didn’t have to climb any hills. But when we stopped at a town like Neckarsteinach, and wanted to see the sights in its vicinity, we found that almost all of the things we wanted to see, such as castles, were on the tops of the surrounding hills. So we ended up doing a lot of hill climbing on our bikes, but at least we could leave our big packs in our room while sightseeing.

After two days, and a total of less than 20 miles traveled from Heidelberg, we loaded our packs and pedaled on. We left the Neckar, and went due north to Erbach. Along the way, we faced several challenging hills. Fortunately for me, even though I hadn’t put in much time riding the bike to prepare for the trip, I had been running three to five miles a day. On the other hand, Alice had been working hard at Vulcan almost to the moment we got on the plane, and was not in shape for strenuous biking. As we were pedaling up one long hill, with Alice straining very hard, a truck came up the hill from behind and passed us. The driver gave me a withering look – “Why are you abusing your poor wife like that?” his stare seemed to say. I wanted to explain, “It’s all her idea, this is what she wants to do,” but of course I never got the chance.

We stopped in a little park next to the road, ate our sandwiches and refilled our water bottles, and pressed on for Erbach. Just as we reached our hotel and checked in, it started to rain hard. We were tired, but thankfully dry.

During our short stay in Erbach, I learned a valuable lesson about modern travel that has served Alice and I very well in our many travels since. I had decided it would be a good idea to cash a travelers’ check and get some Deutsch marks. I soon found out that cashing travelers’ checks is a time consuming and expensive process in Germany, and probably elsewhere. When I found a bank that would cash one, the fees were numerous and prohibitive. This was very bad news, since I had brought $3,000 of travelers’ checks with me to use in the many instances, such as when we stayed in Bed & Breakfast hotels, where I knew I wouldn’t be able to use my credit card. Just as I was mentally beating up on myself, I noticed the bank’s Automated Teller Machine (ATM). “I wonder,” thought I, “if my credit union ATM will work here?” So I tried it, and out came Deutsch Marks, and I wasn’t even charged an ATM fee. Further, I noticed that there were ATM’s all over, accessible at any hour of the day or night, seven days a week, with no bank lines to stand in, and no bank managers or tellers to annoy or confuse me, and I them. I tucked the travelers’ checks away for future emergencies that never occurred, and deposited them back into my account after we returned to California four months later.

The following day we pressed on, still headed north, destination Reichelsheim. We never made it that day, or any day since. Alice was worn out, and as we passed a village named Klein Gumpen, Alice said, “I can’t go any farther, I’ve got to stop.” As luck would have it, just as she said that we were passing a hotel, so we turned back and checked in. This unplanned stop became one of the highlights of the entire trip.

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